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Photo of Ming-Ho Yu

(1928-2020)

Tribute: Ming-Ho Yu

By Wayne Landis

When I arrived in Bellingham and Huxley College in the fall of 1989, Dr. Yu was teaching toxicology as he had since 1969. He and his courses were the foundation of the rebuilding of the program in Environmental Toxicology after a series of turbulent events in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As Professor of Toxicology Ruth Sofield stated,” He is the reason that there was a toxicology program for me to come to at Huxley College”. Thirty years later, in winter quarter of 2020, the Department of Environmental Sciences still offers a course using a textbook with Dr. Yu as a coauthor, 22 years after his retirement. The outstanding undergraduate student in the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry program is presented the Ming-Ho Yu Award, another reflection of his long-lived impact and legacy to the college. Personally, he was my mentor and friend as I made the transition from a toxicology laboratory director in the Federal government to academia. His counsel was on point when dealing with the vagaries of Huxley and always encouraging of the course that the Institute was taking.

Professor Yu was born in Taiwan, at that time part of the Japanese Empire.  He learned Japanese in school and served briefly, and at a very young age, in the Japanese Army. He received his B. S. degree from National Taiwan University in Taipei in 1953.  Later he came to the United States and received a M. S. and Ph. D. in Plant Nutrition and Physiology from the University of Utah in 1967. After his postdoctoral research at the University of Alberta he began his career at WWU in 1969 and was a member of the Founding Faculty of Huxley College. He was promoted to Professor in 1980 and retired in 1997. Since 1998 he has had the title of Professor Emeritus and was the busiest retired person I have known. Having Mandarin, Japanese, and English as languages, he travelled extensively across the world, especially in Asia, the Middle East, and India. Once I asked him how it was so easy for him to travel from Taiwan, to Japan, to China and return again and again?  After all, Taiwan and China have not always been on the best of terms. He said that it was because he is an American citizen—and  I think that  his language skills, his respectful manner, and deep intelligence no doubt helped.

Professor Yu was an accomplished scholar. He was the founding co-editor of the journal Environmental Sciences, served as the Associate Editor of Fluoride, and was the President of the International Society for Fluoride Research (1994-1996). His publication record lists 7 books and 55 journal publications, many focusing on fluoride as an environmental contaminant. Fluorosis is a disease of the skeleton brought about by fluoride exposure, often coming from industrial activities such as aluminum smelting.  Fluoride contamination is more common in developing economies and Professor Yu was internationally recognized as an expert in the identification and remediation of the impacts.

In the early 1990s, Professor Yu and I had started to consolidate the toxicology courses of Huxley College into the sequence that continues to this day. The textbook Landis and Yu, Introduction to Environmental Toxicology, was our attempt to provide a suitable textbook for upperclassmen and first year graduate students.  We began the process as separate endeavors, but combined efforts when I mentioned that I already had a publisher. Now the text is in its 5th edition and it has been 25 years since its first publication. The text is often cited as a reference in peer reviewed publications as a primary source. Now that Professor Sofield is a co-author I am looking forward to its continued use as a textbook in our program as well as others across the world.

Professor Yu is still admired. Since 2005 the Institute of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry has presented the Professor Ming-Ho Yu Award to the best undergraduate in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry of the year. The awardee is selected by the faculty in Environmental Toxicology and there is no formal application process. The criteria are both having an outstanding undergraduate career and showing promise for a  continued graduate education, and career in the field.  In some years two awards are made. The students receive an engraved plaque and their name is added to the list displayed in the Institute.  After 15 years it has been a delight to see the advancement of these students into the field with many of them now colleagues.

I am proud to call Professor Yu a mentor and collaborator. His legacy already is secure, both at the College and across the Pacific Rim.